A Mother's Gift to Her Daughter

After her daughter finished rehab, she wanted to commemorate the occasion and also learned an important lesson.

- Posted on Apr 30, 2019

A mother and daughter driving in her new car.

I am scrunched into a window seat in a plane flying to Florida. From up here everything looks so small and manageable. I look down to a noodle-size river wiggling through hills. I muse that I could reach down and plow a field with a fingernail. Then an attendant rattles a drink cart down the aisle. It jolts me back to reality.

I’m going to help my daughter, Sanna, just out of alcohol and drug rehab in Tampa, buy a car. Her ride to work fell through, and last night on the telephone her voice sounded defeated. “Mom, my boss said I’ll be fired if I don’t find transportation soon.” I was terrified that all Sanna had accomplished in rehab would be lost for want of a ride to work. Yet because of the expense of her program we can scrape together only three thousand dollars for a car, and my husband, Whitney, up to his ears running his small business, can’t make the trip.

I’ve never bought a car in my life. What’s under the hood, besides darkness and grease, I don’t have a clue. My only hope is to find an honest car dealer. Is there such a thing? I wonder.

Pushing through the glass doors of the terminal into sunshine and palm trees, I feel gratitude for how far Sanna has come, yet a small, dark voice in me keeps nagging, It’s always the little things that get people down. As I drive my rental car to Sanna’s address, I pray, Please, God, we need a reliable car ...

It had been easy to pray for Sanna when her alcohol and drug addiction led to an overdose. Whitney and I had surrendered ourselves and Sanna completely into God’s care. The doctor said it was a miracle she had survived. I was confident it was God’s love enveloping her—and us. After we had been granted so much, it felt petty to pray for a used car.

Finally I find Sanna’s white stucco apartment building. Sanna is waiting outside. The last time I saw her, pale and thin, was halfway through her treatment. Now her brown eyes sparkle. Her curly, dark hair shines, and her skin glows. She stands tall, head up, shoulders back. When I hug her I feel muscle instead of bones. “Sanna,” I say, “you’re beautiful.”

“Thanks, Mom. I feel beautiful.” In the car she buckles her seat belt and pulls out a crumpled piece of paper. “My friend at work knows a guy named Tony. I’ll read you the directions.”

As the garish sign for Tony’s flashes and rows of pristine new cars glint in the sun, my euphoria over Sanna’s restored health wilts. “Did your friend tell Tony we need a used car?” I ask. Sanna shrugs as a tanned, wiry little man in a flashy sport coat sprints toward us, beaming a twenty-thousand-dollar smile.

“I—uh—we’re looking for a used car for three thousand dollars,” I stammer. Tony’s brisk handshake turns to mush at this news. He steps back and jingles some change in his pocket. At the back row of the lot Tony stops by a sedan the color of hazy sky. “A 1984 Honda,” Tony says, patting the roof. “Reliable and safe.”

“Could I drive it?” Sanna asks.

“Sure thing,” Tony says, sliding behind the wheel. He turns the key. Silence. “There’s a guy s’posed to keep these batteries charged,” he mutters. We thank him and flee.

Returning to my motel, I retreat to my room and lie on the bed. My mind wanders back to the frantic aftermath of Sanna’s overdose. I phoned all over the country looking for a rehab we could afford that was decent and had an immediate opening. Nothing. Then my sister, Sally, a nurse, called. She had had lunch with a social worker who knew of a small rehab center in Florida. Sanna was there the next day. Lord, I pray wanly, you’ve done so much for us. Could you do something about a car for Sanna?

A thought pushes me off the bed: Buy a newspaper. I slip on my sandals and wander down a concrete walk to a newspaper-vending machine. I drop a quarter in the slot for the St. Petersburg Times.

Back in my room I flip through the sections. When I happen on an article about buying a used car my heart starts to pound. There is, it says, a dealership in St. Petersburg that has earned a reputation for honesty.

Early the next morning Sanna and I are on our way to meet Jim, the person who answered when I called the dealership profiled in the newspaper. Jim is a tall, fatherly gent with white hair and a Texas accent. Since I explained our needs and budget to him the day before, he takes us right to a clean, white 1988 Chrysler without a mark on it. When he opens the driver’s door, it smells fresh inside. It’s twenty-six-hundred dollars. We take it for a test run, with Sanna driving. “Well, Mom,” she says, “it handles well and sounds good.”

I tell her, “Sanna, anything short of a death rattle would sound good to us!”

“Oh, Mom,” she says, “I love this car. Let’s take it!”

With insurance, taxes and registration the total is exactly three thousand dollars. When the transaction is complete, Jim tells Sanna about the motor, how to check the oil, and the importance of regular maintenance. He spends a good half hour with her.

As I follow Sanna back over the causeway to my motel, Tampa Bay is sparkling in the sunlight. A feeling of well-being washes through me—I feel loved. From the hazy blue compact to my urge to buy the newspaper with the article that led us to the car, God’s fingerprints are all over this provision. No matter is too trivial for his notice. Never again will I hesitate to surrender all my concerns to God.

This story first appeared in the April 1998 issue of Guideposts magazine.

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